2011: 3 movies

Directed by Ron Fricke
Writing by Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson
Produced by Mark Magidson
Cinematography by Rexal Ford and Ron Fricke
Editing by Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson
Music by Marcello De Francisci, Lisa Gerrard,
Michael Stearns, Dijan Gasparyan, and Ron Sunsinger

   Oh. My. God. Put it on when you're in the right mood, and more than an hour goes by without you being able to move. I think this is the definition of "stunning". Takes the audience through so many different ideas, moods, feelings and truths, it transfers sensations to the audience. Sensations such as: how small we are!, how old we are!, how precious we are!, how stupid we can be!, and how smart and connected we can be! How ugly we can be and how beautiful we can be! I think this is the definition of cinema. People should know the names of the cinematography team and editing team. I think the crew could even start their own religion. This is one of the movies that gives me confidence that humanity is going to be okay, both because of the people depicted and because of the profundity of the work itself.
   Yes, this type of movie has been done before. It's a collage around a theme with no dialogue and sometimes not even a musical soundtrack. It's an idea that I think started with 1927's Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt, continued with 1930's H2O and Melodie der welt, as well as more recent projects like 2001's Le peuple migrateur.
   The title translates from Sanskrit to "the endless cycle of death and rebirth, transmigration of souls".

Girl Walk: All Day
Direction, cinematography, and editing by Jacob Krupnick
Produced by Jacob Krupnick, Youngna Park,
and Sam Petersson
Music by Girl Talk
Starring Anne Marsen, John Clayton Doyle,
and Daisuke Omiya

   Simple but brilliant idea, make a video to a song, and have the video be three dancers in New York City who express themselves by dancing through every part of the city, and this sometimes gives them joy, sometimes makes them feel like outsiders, outcasts. The brilliance comes with the 3 stars, the public displays of emotion and talent, the increasingly more complicated shots, and the killer soundtrack which was really the backbone the whole time! Bravo to all! Zero dialogue but tons of fun.    
   The soundtrack by group Girl Talk is a series of popular rock songs mashed up with popular hip hop jams that really get the heart pumping and face smiling. 

Written, directed, produced, animated,
edited, and sound produced by
Malcolm Sutherland

   Kind of gets me nervous and spooked, touches a part of the brain that it is talking about, and lets us know that we still have it. Frightening, somehow beautiful, and perfectly delivered.

posted 2021 April 12

Three Additions: One each for 1964, 1963, and 1905


Comizi d'amore (1964)
Direction and interviews by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Produced by Alfredo Bini
Cinematography by Mario Bernardo and Tonino Delli Colli
Editing by Nino Baragli
Production management by Eliseo Boschi

   Reporter on the street asking a wide array of people their opinions about various aspects of sex, love, family, and society. Sounds basic enough, but the fact that it is a contender for being the first such movie is an honor. Add to that, the elegant structure, the bold selections, gripping editing makes it stronger. But most delicious of all is that the interviews are done in ultra-conservative, ultra-Catholic Italy of the 1960s, and that the interviewer himself is a towering figure of the arts: Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of the founders of cinema's neo-reaiism, a poet, an auto-didact, a genius, a fiery iconoclast, a rebel, a gay man, a communist, and eventually, a martyr to greed insolence and ignorance. Not all his questions or reactions are perfect, but a few mis-steps can be overlooked, like a smudge in one corner of Da Vinci's Virgin on the Rocks. You can see the masterpiece regardless. 
   The title translates from the Italian to "Conference of Love".

Flaming Creatures (1963)
Writing, direction, production, editing,
and cinematography by Jack Smith

   Caution to sensitive viewers, there is much nudity, depiction of fornication, of an orgy, as well as a mock rape scene. In general, the meaning of this movie is to honor the body and sensuality, all sexualities, to revel in the erotic, and to poke fun at sexually conservative mind-sets. The scratchy soundtrack is perfect and light years ahead of its time, especially when it goes blank and when it has duelling soundtracks. And the cinematography defines lo-fi, like half a century before it got its name, with its brightness washouts so glaring that half the time you're not sure what you're looking at, but you like it.

Saharet, Bolero (1905)
Directed by Alice Guy
Starring Madame Saharet and Don Moreno

   Similar to some of Alice Guy's other dance movies, like Au bal de Flore (1900), except this one involves a whole dance team, and presents us with a more thrilling and complicated dance, making us feel like we've scored a ticket to a top-notch show! The popping color and realistic background are also commendable.
   The title lists the name of the internationally famous dancer, Paulina Clarissa Molony AKA Saharet, alongside the name of the style of dance depicted, which is the Spanish bolero.

Click here for the full 1905 entry

2010: 6 movies

Madagascar, carnet de voyage
Written and directed by Bastien Dubois
Produced by Ron Dyens and Aurélia Prévieu
Editing by Boubkar Benzabat and Bastien Dubois
Sound by Cyrille Lauwerier
Animation by Pierre-Alain Dubois

   A fantstic year for cinema, really a turning point in awareness. Interesting that 5 out of 6 movies that made it on this list for this year are only a few minutes long. This may be the most joyful movie that has a funeral as its centerpiece. It is a palpable celebration of the earth, people, music, writing, art, and ultimately, cinema. 
   It gives the viewer out of body sensations. Exciting, rhythmic journal of a voyage, including the sadness and pity at the end of a good voyage.
   Yes, maybe there is some respect due to Waking Life (2001), for its animation style, but the images here, seem warmer, more loved, as if there is more reliance on the hand than on computers. The title translates from the French to "Madagascar, trip-diary".

The External World
Directed by David O'Reilly
Written by Vernon Chatman and David O'Reilly
Produced by Henning Kamm and David O'Reilly
Music by Bram Meindersma
Animation by Max Stöhr and Tobias von Burkersroda

   Makes you feel crazy. It's an animated short that takes you deep into the heart of evil and negativity. It doesn't glorify the evil, but it does at times find humor in it, and that is a little shocking for the audience. But it's such a novel, brilliant never-boring product that it makes you search for a way to justify it. So, you say, "You know what? I think it's a beautiful world but also sometimes it's an unjust mixed up cruel and sometimes evil world out there. And this movie reminds me of our dichotomy." 
   It is powerful in ways I struggle to express. It's like hearing a scream of intense pain, but with an after-taste of hope in humor and art, and ultimately a sigh of hope in the adaptability of our communication and our ability to express our desires and demands.

Directed and edited by Chris Beckman

   Saw this movie about 10 years ago and just really haven't been able to forget it. The question that lingers long afterwards: what's the difference between when people had camcorders and everyone started having movie cameras on their phones? Did this change or add anything? Did it subtract anything? Did it make us better off or worse? Or is everything relatively the same? It gives a feeling of suspense because of the energetic editing and the sense of time hurling by.
   Like, do we know exactly what we're doing? Are we flinging ourselves headlong into danger with our fascination with technology? Are we ready for this? Yes or no, it's coming. Our reckoning with all these forces is happening. It's about our fascination with our maximized ability, like a new-found super-human strength. But how to use it, and what are the dangers? And what do we risk losing? This movie, from the time when cameras on everyone's person had just became possible and trendy, is brilliant and gripping because it triggers these questions in a page-turning way.

2009: 3 movies

Un tour de manege
Directed by Nicolas Athane, Brice Chevillard,
Alexis Liddell, Françoise Losito,
and Mai Nguyen 
Music by Pablo Pico

   Almost too perfect! Maybe the greatest movie. Seriously, the colors and movement, the boldness of getting a spirit so tender into a movie is mind-boggling. The fact that it's so short plays into its theme brilliantly. 
   The title translates from the French to "A merry-go-round"

Taking Woodstock
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by James Schamus
Produced by Celia D. Costas, Ang Lee,
and James Schamus
Cinematography by Eric Gautier
Editing by Tim Squyres
Music by Danny Elfman
Production design by David Gropman
Art direction by Peter Rogness
Set decor by Ellen Christiansen
Costumes by Joseph G. Aulisi
Make-up by LuAnn Claps and Nicky Pattison Illum 
Hair-styles by Jerry DeCarlo and Lyndell Quiyou
Starring Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton,
Paul Dano, and Kelli Garner

   Remember that Hitchcock movie "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943), where a young kid is bored in a conservative life and prays for Uncle Charlie to visit and make everything alive again? But when Uncle Charlie comes, life becomes a nightmare? 
   In this movie, Uncle Charlie comes in the form of the hippie movement, and this time, all problems are solved. Great music, great performances, great direction. One of the best movies to get you into the mindset of the late 1960s US rock and hippie movements. Also gives a rendering of what America is, what it could be, and what is keeping it back.

Written, directed, produced, and edited 
by Rashaad Ernesto Green
Starring Kaylin Bensinger and Reinaldo Marcus Green

   Well done character-study. Well done because it shows adulthood-based visuals that we try to match with the childhood-based audio. The whole time it has us working like a third member of the visuals and a second member of the audio. We're trying to figure out what's going on. Who's talking. What's the message? And will it be up to the task of rendering this intimate physical act as connected or just a selling point? In the end, I deem it a tasteful, respectful, and purposeful sex scene. But it's only successful because it is a deeply emotional and honest offering.

posted 2020 October 23

One addition for 1980: Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise

posted on 2020 October 19

This movie is being added to a year already posted,

either I had not seen this movie when that year's essay was posted,

or I had seen it but at one point did not think the movie merited inclusion on this list,

though I do now.

Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise (1980)
Directed by Robert Mugge
Cinematography by Larry McConkey
Starring Sun Ra and John Gilmore

   This is for people who worship music. Rock or jazz, heavy metal, classical, blues, techno, or funk, this has something for you. While watching you may find yourself asking these questions: Is this guy, Sun Ra, crazy? Is this a documentary of a cult? Is this bad music?
   But by the end I found I had experienced two epic drum solos, two epic saxophone solos, and two epic keyboard solos. As well as a documentation of a brilliant composer, musician, and band-leader who contributed to music defiantly and with regality as well as with a sense of humor.
   It's all told in an engaging style that stimulates the eyes and ears. In other words, this is a movie you can trip out to.

2008: 2 movies

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum,
and Gareth Wiley
Cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe
Editing by Alisa Lepselter
Production design by Alain Bainée
Art direction by Iñigo Navarro
Set decor by Sol Caramilloni and Sylvia Steinbrecht
Costume design by Sonia Grande
Hair-styles by Manolo García and Robert Fama
Make-up by Ana Lozano
Paintings by Agustí Puig
Narration by Christopher Evan Welch
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall,
 Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz,
and Chris Messina

   Colorful and entertaining tale of two very different American girls who meet an interesting painter while on vacation in Spain and each have a romantic episode with him. 
   The wild card comes half-way through with the fiery unpredictable character of Maria Elena played perfectly by Penelope Cruz. She is clingy, manic, and volatile, but also beautiful, hyper-intelligent, and sensuous, and she makes it possible for an alternative, threesome lifestyle to blossom. But on another level, Cruz' isn't just a character in a movie about a menage a trois. She can also be seen as a character that represents the creative spirit that haunts artists. Cruz, points at the violent ugly truth of authenticity and originality and how it stands fiercely in the face of boring and soul-killing conformism.
   On the basic level, the movie is like a dream, a vacation, a re-evaluation of life-goals. And always vusually and aurally pleasing. It presents the war between societal norms and the real necessities of people in as neat and engaging a way as possible.
   There is a scene that is most memorable. Cruz's Maria Elena reacts to the end of a love affair. It's a shrieking of pain that pierces the heart of all those who encounter it. In a sense, that is the blues. And it is one of the several combined reasons that this movie is unforgettable.

Gake no ue no Ponyo
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by Toshio Suzuki
Cinematography by Atsushi Okui
Editing by Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Seyama
Art direction by Noboru Yoshida
Music by Joe Hisaishi
Animation direction by  Katsuya Kondô
Color design by Michiyo Yasuda

   Along with, Majo no takkyûbin (AKA Kiki's Delivery Service) (1989), this is one of Miyazaki's best. Wonderful because of how it wanders through the fantastic, the tragic, the romantic, the humorous, and the heroic. Over and over again, you are trying to figure out what kind of movie you are watching, even 'til the end. The rewards along the way are multi-faceted, touching and splendid.
   Allegedly, this is Miyazaki's take on "The Little Mermaid" story, and certainly there a plot points that correlate. The title translates from Japanese to "Ponyo of the cliffs".

Posted 2020 August 20

2007: 3 movies

posted on 2020 June 8

Margot at the Wedding
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach
Produced by Scott Rudin
Cinematography by Harris Savides
Editing by Carol Littleton
Casting by Douglas Aibel
Production design by Anne Ross
Art direction by Adam Stockhausen
Set decor by Debra Schutt
Costumes by Ann Roth
Make-up by Michal Bigger
Hair-styles by Lori Guidroz
Starring Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh,
Jack Black, Zane Pais,
and John Turturro

   Fantastic study of childhood in the developed world. There is sadness, there is beauty, there is confusion, every character has admirable traits and despicable ones. No one is to be trusted but everyone is to be loved. It's like a wizard has taken up cinema, and emotional engagement has, somehow in an instant, become the new metric. The reliance on silence or muted music as the soundtrack is both a bold statement of trust in the strong script and performances, as well as a realistic method of depicting what life really feels like. The decision is successful on both counts. The fact that we are from the beginning trying to obtain a meaning or moral, and that the morals and meanings are constantly morphing is one of its stronger attributes. Master performances all around. Mephistopheles must have been the editor. And the director. And the writer. The whole team gets extra kudos for being a part of this phenomenal project.
   Side note: I find it interesting that both of the only two directors who have movies that made it into the Canon for this year are friends and sometimes collaborators. Their understanding of cinema's history and how they could fit within it, propelling it forward, blossomed at the same time and maybe even assisted each other's achievements.

Hotel Chevalier
Written and directed by Wes Anderson
Produced by Patrice Haddad
Cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman
Editing by Vincent Marchand
Art direction by Kris Moran
Make-up and Hair-styles by Frances Hannon
Starring Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman

   This movie and the next one present a conundrum, since they are always shown together, they share much of the same cast and crew, as well as mood, look, pacing, characters. On top of this, the story-lines compliment each other hand in glove. I have only watched them together and I have no desire to watch them separately. It's like appetizer before meal. Song before symphony. Poem before novel.
   So, how do we decide which comes first on this list? I list them in order of which was released first and which is to be screened first.
   As for the quality and importance in cinema of this short movie, it's a neat, subtle, quietly humorous piece about the violent yearning to hold onto someone who isn't ready to be held onto by anyone. The lasting effect is an epic romanticism, one heart breaking as it releases a lover that wants to be set free.

The Darjeeling Limited 
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola,
and Jason Schwartzman
Produced by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola,
Lydia Dean Pilcher, and Scott Rudin
Cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman
Editing by Andrew Weisblum
Production design by Mark Friedberg
Art direction by Aradhana Seth
Set decor by Suzanne Caplan Merwanji and Aradhana Seth
Costumes by Milena Canonero
Hair-styles by Fabian Garcia and Frances Hannon
Make-up by Frances Hannon
Starring Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman,
Adrien Brody, Anjelica Huston,
Amara Karan, and Bill Murray

   This is the main feature tied to the introductory movie listed above. Should be viewed together as they are parts of a two-pronged project.
   It's a fantastic novel of a movie. The kind you can't put down, but rather you race through the pages of breathlessly, laughing, crying, shouting with pain, and shouting with pride.
   It's about family and how time separates, but how some bonds can never be replaced, and also how some people you love are the people can hurt you the worst. It's intricately designed and somehow hilarious with a great soundtrack. The music makes it not only a novel of a movie but also a classic rock record of a movie. Must see.

One addition for 1966: Liitle Richard: Live in Paris

posted on 2020 June 7

Little Richard: Live in Paris (1966)
Recorded at the L’Olympia in November
Backed by UK band, Johnny B. Great & The Quotations

   Wild fiery sexual violent proud and beautiful. The crowd is feeling it. Gay gospel boy Little Richard rose to fame through seedy nightclub performances and early historic recordings of the new sound, known as rock & roll, that was sweeping the nation in the 1950s. The sound had its 2nd explosion in popularity in the 1960s spurred largely by energetic young white British rockers such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who cemented rock's vitality and caused it to go global, or viral, before that was even a term. And in 1966, that rock pioneer, who had toured with the Beatles, the Stones, and Jimi Hendrix, before they were even widely known, comes back with a concert to re-assert his dominance, his status as one of the originators, his status as visionary, his status as the ruler of these times. And the audience understands and accepts and claps and shakes and stares and drools and is mesmerized.
   The shirtlessness and overt intense sexual aura adds authenticity, and ushers in the era of sex in music, which would be furthered by the Doors, David Bowie, funk, punk rock, heavy metal, and now almost every other act in music today.
   In other words, this concert movie isn't great because it documents the presenting of new sounds or new music to the world, after all, these songs are all about a decade old, but it  is a great movie because it documents the presenting of a new mood, a new philosophy, or maybe an old one. It documents a new naked unabashed style of performance, and the lifting of previously banned or unacceptable themes, like lurid staring, and a shirtless male beckoning the crowd like a lover, and a black man embracing his sensuality in a room full of admirers, and heightening it even further.
   Recorded three years before the mind-shifting, ethos-shift that was the Woodstock, Festival of Peace and Love. I mean, he's literally making the crowd beg for him to throw out to them his sweaty shirt for a minute or two. The energy is insane. The music is great. The band is on point. The performer is a demon. And the crowd is perfectly in tune with the times. Great document.

2006: 7 movies

posted on 2020 April 20

Dave Chappelle's Block Party
Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Dave Chappelle
Produced by Mustafa Abuelhija, Dave Chappelle,
Julie Fong, and Bob Yari
Music by Cory Smith
Cinematography by Ellen Kuras
Editing by Jeff Buchanan, Sarah Flack,
and Jamie Kirkpatrick
Production design by Lauri Faggioni
Art direction by Pete Zumba
Costume design by Whitney Kyles
Hair-styles by Mary Cooke and Qodi Armstrong
Make-up by Anita Gibson and Francesca Buccellato
Starring Dave Chappelle, Quest Love,
Yasiin Bey, Dead Prez,
The Roots, Erykah Badu,
Jill Scott, Kanye West,
Common, Cody ChesnuTT,
Lauryn Hill, The Fugees,
Talib Kweli, and John Legend

   How does one even talk about this movie? First off, is it even a movie? What in the world is it? After repeated viwings and 14 years distance, I can finally see 3 things this project is. It starts off as a touching and inspirational act of charity, because superstar Dave Chappelle is giving back to his community as well as sending a message of unity and celebration and beauty to the world. Secondly, it's a superb concert video, among the best, capturing the best underground black U.S. musicians as well as the best mainstream black U.S. musicians. It builds up from when the concert was a concept to the sign off, the whole time weaving in several of the most riveting musical performances recorded to film. Mixing in commentary on music, comedy, their intersection, and the state of race relations at the time. And thirdly, it's a document that reveals the spirit of the United States of America at the time. It's a diverse population with loads of baggage, tons of tension, but we see here the medicine, the panacea, that Dave offers is the correct prescription for peace and prosperity. It's the same energy from the hippie 60s, the same energy that elected the first black president. It's the same energy that occupied Wall Street, and it's the same energy behind the 2016 and 2020 Bernie Sanders campaigns. That energy never died. It's alive and well. It's the heartbeat of the world. And Dave Chappelle and Michel Gondry documented it.

The Water Diary
Written and directed by Jane Campion
Produced by Christopher Gill, Lissandra Haulica,
and Marc Oberon
Music by Mark Bradshaw
Cinematography by Greig Fraser
Editing by Heidi Kenessey

   In a few minutes, this movie shows you our world, how vulnerable we are, that it's important to value what really is essential, and it ends with a vision of the species we have within us to become. Highest honors, a work of excruciating beauty. The cinematography and direction is on some spiritual, grand Beethoven-type riff, and it is very welcome.

Marie Antoinette
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola
Produced by Sofia Coppola and Ross Katz
Music by Dustin O'Halloran
Cinematography by Lance Acord
Editing by Sarah Flack
Production design by K.K. Barrett
Art direction by Pierre Duboisberranger
Set decor by Véronique Melery
Costume design by Milena Canonero
Make-up by Jean-Luc Russier and Hue Lan Van Duc
Hair-styles by Desideria Corridoni and Gérald Portenart
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman,
and Asia Argento

   Delicious. Just a pure delight. It's a cream puff, only existing to give joy. And part of the joy that this movie gives is the bittersweet sensation that life is beautiful but it has and end. A masterpiece. The soundtrack is unbelievably enjoyable and ground-breaking for its contrast with the time-period of the setting. Adds a whole other layer of meaning.

Two Additions: One for 2004 and one for 1963

Exils (2004)
Written, directed, and produced by Tony Gatlif
Music by Tony Gatlif and Delphine Mantoulet
Cinematography by Céline Bozon
Editing by Monique Dartonne
Production design by Brigitte Brassart
Starring Romain Duris and Lubna Azabal

   Gatlif does it again! He's given us another movie that while we watch, we simply can't predict a moment in it. Every action, every sound, every cut, and every long-held shot, every decision by the characters, every action by the fate of the plot, it is all unexpected, and thus the movie flies by in a blur. We can't take our eyes off it. The music and cinematography are unparalleled as goes for most Gatlif movies.
   Like a favorite album, you can sit through the whole thing and love every minute of it, but do you know what it means? Do you know what the songs are actually about? You listen and enjoy not because you understand, but because you feel. The rhythms and sounds, the characters and passers-by, the sets, themes, and mood are all just members of Gatlif's big band performance for us. It's a cutting-edge, much needed, correct step for cinema to take. You can watch it a hundred times and still find something new, enjoy some other angle of thinking about it.
   The title is an intentional mis-spelling of "Exiles".

Anita O'Day - Live in Sweden (1963)
Starring Anita O'Day, Goran Engdahl (p), 
Roman Dylag (b), and John Poole (d) 

   A live set performed with perfection by the singer, as well as the drummer. The pianist and bassist do remarkably well during choruses and verses, but stumble a little during their solos. Overall, it's a stunning thing to watch Anita, this force of music, improvise and delight a live audience with her unpredictable sounds, through long smart angles and cuts that allow this movie to still come across as fresh. A miraculous treat!
   Recorded on 1 November 1963 in Sweden. The songs performed are: Sweet Georgia Brown, Let's Fall In Love, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Fly Me to the Moon, Honeysuckle Rose, On Green Dolphin Street, and Tea for Two. Each one performed to perfection.

Click here for the full 1963 entry